Landlords in Washington D.C. must provide apartment buildings with mailboxes and individual locks. The housing code is silent about whether single-family homes, like rowhouses, need to have mailboxes but separate regulations about zoning, deeds, and federal mail laws are likely to them.
Landlords that have apartment buildings with more than one unit must provide a mailbox approved by the US Postal Service with a separate lock and key for each apartment unit. The tenant is required to have a copy of the key, so if they lose it, the landlord is required to provide them with a copy. These must be maintained in “safe and good working condition.” If a mailbox needs repair, the landlord has up to 7 working days fix it. D.C. Municipal Regulations 14-1204.
Single Family Homes
DC law is silent about how houses or buildings with only one apartment unit should have their mail receptacles. While there may be no violation under local DC housing code, local rules about registering houses, deeds, and mail services, as well as federal laws concerning the mail service, may require landlords to keep and maintain mailboxes. Federal law has severe consequences for tampering with a someone else’s mail, including that of a tenant.
Report the Problem
If a tenant thinks the landlord is violating D.C. Housing Code (or another D.C. law) and it’s worth causing a fight with the landlord, the best option for them is to report it to local authorities. Tenants can call (202) 442-9557 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tenants should call 311 for urgent problems. Tenants should document all issues and keep a copy of all communication where they first notified the landlord. The RenterPeace app makes this easy.
Although this may negatively impact the landlord-tenant relationship, tenants have broad protections under the law as long as they have a “good faith” belief that there is a violation. A landlord cannot increase the rent, decrease the services to the tenant (e.g., cut off utilities), or evict them in retaliation for making a complaint. Tenants often fear that a landlord may try to evict anyways, but to evict a tenant, landlords must first take them to landlord-tenant court, where the landlord will be made to answer 1) for all the problems stated in the complaint and 2) for whether they illegally retaliated against the tenant. D.C. Municipal Regulations 14-307.
What To Expect
When a tenant reports a problem, an inspector visits the apartment (typically within a week or less) to look for housing code violations. The inspector then usually orders the landlord to fix the problem(s) by a certain date and sometimes immediately fines them for the violation. Fines can be as high as $300 per day the apartment is in violation, but typically, the inspector just wants to see the problem fixed. If the landlord ignores the order to fix the problem, they may be subject to more fines and may even be subject to up to 90 days in jail per day that the apartment violates housing rules. D.C. Municipal Regulations 14-102.1 and 14-102.7.
State and Local Laws
Laws differ heavily by state, county, and city. Use RenterPeace to see more specific laws for to a given apartment and to see comments from people in your area.
Documenting the Problem
For most problems, tenants should document their issues, notify their landlord (document this too!), and stay informed about their rights. Renterpeace is a free website that helps with each step of this process. Tenants use RenterPeace to more easily see applicable laws, track their problems, and much more. There's a reason RenterPeace was selected "Best of" legal apps for both Android and iOS. It also includes household management tools, like a chore manager and bill tracker. Try it - you don't even to login first.
Using Property Management
To stay updated and organized about the problems in their apartments, landlords should use a property management system. Many are expensive or have high setup fees, but using RenterPeace for landlords is free. It's complete with legal compliance tips targeted to their problems, maintenance tracking, tenant screening, money-saving grant information, and tenant chat. It makes managing properties easier and staying updated about status of rental properties a breeze. Try it today.